Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Engagements, Rewards, and God's Plan

Some of you may have noticed that I didn't post a blog last week, and for that, I am sorry. 

It was a pretty busy, rad week. 

I had to squish all of my weekly responsibilities in to Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday because on Wednesday, I drove to Disneyland with my beautiful girlfriend and her incredible parents.

Well I guess I should say my beautiful fiancee and incredible in-laws-to-be.

With that information provided, it can be said that last week was an excellent, exciting, amazing, nerve-wracking, life changing week.

The proposal ended up being nothing like I had planned it, which, I suppose, is the story of my life.

I had this incredible plan to furtively carry the ring all day in the park until the late night fireworks show, drop to one knee romantically, perform this beautifully rehearsed speech, open up the ring box as the last explosions of the fireworks finale are erupting in the sky above, the bright colorful lights glistening off of the flawless diamonds of the hidden engagement ring as I look longingly in to her beautiful green eyes, shimmering with tears of joy and love.

Ya, it didn't go down like that.

And I'm so glad! The actual proposal was much more original and personal than the cliche scene written above.

When my plans were scattered to the four winds, I began to panic. The plan I had been meticulously formulating in my head for weeks had vanished like a pudding cup in a kindergarten classroom. 

I was up the creek, and I had left my paddle on Splash Mountain.

We went back to the hotel room that the four of us were sharing, my mind racing with the words of my brother, the wise sage, Danny.

"You might just have to [suck it up] and do it." and that was exactly what was going to go down.

I look at Haylee and say "Hey we should talk. Want to go on a walk?"

She nodded and we went down stairs through the lobby and walked out of the hotel front. She could tell I was nervous. My hands were clammy, my heart was pounding, my voice stammering, my face, stoic.

"What's on your mind?" she asked me. To be completely honest, there are no words to describe what was on my mind. The convoluted collaboration of my cognitive chaos was cluttering the required conversational clarity to properly construct coordinated chords to communicate what was on my mind.

So there we stood. 

In the parking lot of the Sheraton Fairplex hotel, surrounded by trees and grass, the only light, a street lamp humming twelve feet above. As I talked and pathetically tried to voice my feelings, I fiddled with the silver ring she had worn everyday since she was twelve. It was not uncommon for me to spin the ring on her finger or play with it or sometimes take it off, but this time would be different. 

As I explained my thoughts and my feelings for her, I slipped her ring in to my pocket and pulled out a new ring for her to wear.

My heart pounded in my chest, and my hands shook. I took the ring and slipped it on to her finger as I continued to talk. She looked down at her hand, expecting to see her silver ring, but she paused and looked at her hand for a moment. I took her hand in mine, dropped to one knee, and asked her if she would be my wife. I was only kneeling for a second before she very strongly said YES! 

And that's how I became a fiance.

Even now as I type this, my heart is pounding, and I can't stop smiling in recollection of last Thursday. God has worked so powerfully and so obviously as of late, and I want to turn all eyes and credit to He who created love, Haylee, the universe, and everything visible and invisible.

God is good everyday, and He is ever abundant in love and truth.

I am so grateful for His omnipotence in every situation. When our plans go awry, He winks and says "Watch this" and we are blown away by how God is in control of everything all the time. 

Every situation, every moment, God is active and in control. All things were created by God to bring God glory. Everything.

As a diagnosed control freak, this is stressful sometimes. I hate the idea of being trapped in the unknown and not having control of a situation because it makes me feel vulnerable and helpless.

But God loves our vulnerability. He works in our hearts and takes advantage of the situation to show how great and perfect He is, and how He is everything we need.
Have you ever ridden Disneyland's Jungle Cruise? It's one of the classics. You get in to a boat with a witty jungle tour guide and traverse the rivers of the world  while avoiding cannibals, tigers, rampaging hippos, and bad jokes. It's a great time and one of my favorites after a long day of stroller dodging and merrymaking.

But the line...

When you first get in line, you can see the boats and the people in front of you boarding their vessel of jungle fun, so you know that your time is coming soon. What you don't see are the four hundred other people waiting in line above you in the mile long roped off path. As you follow the rope, it leads you right beside the water so you can almost touch it, then up a flight of stairs, in to a room where you zig zag four times, out of the room, back in to the same room again, a zig, another zag, out on to a thin bridge, down a flight of stairs, put your right hand in, put your right hand out, shake it all about, zig zag another room until you find yourself in the exact same spot you were in an hour earlier except this time, you get to ride a boat and see hippos.

Yay!

But that's just how Disneyland is! Anyone who has ever enjoyed the Matterhorn Bobsleds or Splash Mountain know that diligence and faithfulness and staying on the right path is the way to your reward at the end of the line.

I totally just saw your light bulbs flicker on. 

I couldn't help but see this microcosm as an amazing metaphor. The Apostle Paul compares life to a race, full of discipline, endurance, and traversing the track to the finish line. Like any race, it requires preparation, training in discipline, and pushing yourself all the way to the end, having faith that the God we serve is giving us the strength and resources we need to perform at the top of our game. 

We serve a God who self sufficient and everlasting, needing nothing. He sustains Himself and is perfect at all times. His plans and judgement is perfect. 

When we lean and rely on our perfect creator and trust His plan for our lives, we find ourselves joyfully surprised at the outcome. 

It's funny how our plans are never as good as the plans of the omnipotent, all knowing, creator of the universe and master of all things.

Again, sorry for the late post. I've got to get to small group. 



Nate T B

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reverence, Dogs, and True Worship

I've been involved in youth ministry for about a year and a half now, but before that I had all sorts of experience in different forms of church ministry. My resume within church ministry is eclectic and odd to say the least, but it might give you a better idea of the kind of guy I am when it comes to ministry.
  • Puppet Ministry; VBS, missions trips, Sunday School, anything. If there were kids, there were puppets telling bible stories and lip syncing Sunday school songs. As long as no one found out that I was doing puppets, it was cool.
  • Cooking; Sunday morning breakfast, community events, feeding the homeless, etc. Any given weekend, we might pull up in a massive cart and grill up 500+ hamburgers and then disappear in a flash.
  • Camp; the longest and most recent category of ministry that I've been involved in. Within that ministry itself was a myriad of different opportunities from scrubbing toilets to teaching on stage. As far as camp ministry is concerned, I've done it all. Scrubbing toilets, starting camp fires, leading worship, being a counselor, teaching lessons on stage, choreographing Western gunfights, running the zipline, canoe instructor, hike guide, the list goes on for days, but this blog is already a day late, so let's move on.
  • Short Term Missions; There's not a lot more encouraging than seeing followers of Christ passionate and excited to spread the gospel in every nation throughout the world.
  • Worship; Youth group bands, camp fire guitars, unpracticed worship on an outdoor stage in the forest. Worship can be made anywhere.
My experience in the world of worship ministry is limited to say the least. Never before would I have imagined that I would be living in Las Vegas, Nevada, leading worship next to the skilled and bearded king of Seattle, Bradley Linkins.

Bradley is the Associate Pastor here at Summit Ridge Church, and I recommend that if you have not yet Facebook stalked him, do so. He is a man with a heart for deep, intentional relationships and who desires to lead and love in holiness with all that he does. He has a beautiful, gritty singing voice and a love for deep, meaningful lyrics.

He also has infallible side burns.

But before Bradley came to Nevada with his family, we were left without anyone to lead worship. The church staff consisted of Pastor John and myself, and PJ had a sermon to work on.

Worship is an important aspect of Sunday morning ministry, so until Bradley arrived, the congregation had to deal with me. They quickly learned to sing louder than me so they could not hear me, and they were so excited when Bradley finally arrived.

So was I.

As the months went by, I became more and more passionate in leading worship, and now I get the chance to lead with Bradley nearly every week alongside four or five others from the church.

This brings me to my obscure thought of the week inspired by my obscure roommate, Steve.

"Why do we classify worship as singing?"

I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes when he asked me. I stopped and looked at him. 

That was a good question.

Time to consult James Strong. I brought out the weighty tome and dropped it on the counter.

worn...worrisome...worry... Aha! Worship.

The word "worship" is used 110 times in the bible in 104 different verses.
שׁחה
In Hebrew pronounced shaw-khaw
 and
προσκυνέω
In Greek pronounced pro-skoo-neh-o

The common definition for these two ancient words point to something much different than standing on a stage singing in front of an audience of believers. The common denominator is this picture of humble reverence, kneeling or prostrate before the master. The Greek, προσκυνέω, literally alludes to the same manner a dog would lick his master's hand in submission and love.

That paints a different picture.

So then what are we doing? Are we being unbiblical by not prostrating ourselves on the ground every Sunday morning? Are we treating worship incorrectly?

I think not. At least not for me.

Reverence, humility, and love are states of the heart. You can act humbly, speak in reverence, and perform loving actions, but all three are possible to be performed insincerely. Reverence, humility, and love are all heart statuses. 

Loving actions are an overflow of the love within. Revering action is the precipitation of reverence within. Humbling yourself before another requires inward humility.

Based off of this idea, worship, being an illustration of love, reverence, and humility, is a state of the heart, not necessarily an action.

Usually, in church, the roles of worship are assigned as such:
  • God- Leading the congregation in worship.
  • Musicians- Performing the worship.
  • Congregation-  The audience of the worship.
Humans were created to worship God. We are the product of an outpouring of God's perfect love and glory, made into matter, and given the breath of life from the maker Himself. Our worship is a response to God's greatness and holiness.

When we worship, it is directly to God. We are humble and reverent before our loving, perfect maker. Our worship is directed at God, so that makes God the audience, and us the performers. 

So it could be said that the roles could be reassigned like this:
  • God- The audience of the worship
  • Musicians- Leading the congregation in worship
  • Congregation- Performing the worship.
Worship is a state of the heart, a conscious reverent and humble celebratory attitude towards our maker. 

With this in mind, the moment music becomes worship is the moment it becomes a humble celebration of the greatness of God.

The moment an activity is done with a humble celebration of the incredible perfect attributes of God, it becomes worship.

So in that context, anything can become worship: running, washing dishes, prayer, driving, delivering fruit baskets, cooking fish, anything! Worship is a state of the heart, not an activity.

We were created to worship our great God with every aspect of our lives, in our relationships, in our jobs, in our everyday lives.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 
--Hebrews 12:28



Nate T B

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

People-Pleasing, Hypothermia, and Johnny's Grave

So the internet is a safe place to share secrets, right? I mean, it's not like just anyone can access the things we say and do on the internet...

I'm kidding. 

So many people use the internet as their laundry mat, exposing their dirty laundry and baggage in public for the world to sympathize and make excellent memes out of.

But who am I to critique?
I have a blog...

I'm prideful, a people pleaser, and am terrified of conflict.

How's that for dirty laundry?

I recognize that all of these flaws of mine are rooted in my fears, more specifically, my fears of what people will think of me.

I kick myself and pray about this for hours at a time. My identity and sufficiency are not what other people think of me. I am defined and given purpose by what my God says about me.

I am to be a God pleaser -- NOT a man pleaser.

When I was a strapping young lad, working at Prescott Pines camp, I recall a specific instance in which my desire to please man almost got me killed.

As I have mentioned in blogs past, camp is a strange world with a culture and traditions of its own.

As a counselor, you are the super star, the MVP, the celebrity in front of the camera, and everything you do is cool and exciting, and you are always on the hunt for more ways in which you can increase the status of your awesomeness.

The way you play games, the way you tell stories, your energy, your laugh, your jokes; all these things make up your identity as a counselor.

Above the rest were the legendary counselors who were infinitely cooler and vastly more experienced than the rest. Among them were such counselors as Davy Crockett, Billy the Kidd, Daisy Mae, Nomad, and the list goes on.

These counselor names have all been retired in order to preserve the memory and legacy they left in their wake of changed lives.

A quality many of the legendary counselors shared was their affinity for the game Counselor Hunt. Counselor Hunt is the super bowl of camp games. It's the last team game of the week that can either make or break a massive point lead for a team. Each counselor is assigned a specific amount of points depending on how often they are found.

The game is simple. All the counselors run off in to the woods within a designated area and hide. Up trees, under building, behind rocks, bushes, caves, anything is fair game as long as you stay within boundaries. After the counselors are hidden, the children are released to mercilessly and tirelessly hunt down the hidden counselors. Once a counselor is found, he is tagged, and escorted back to the point-keeper. As long as a counselor is untagged, he may hide or run for his life.

So simple, so awesome.

If you were like me, you were worth 500 points.
That's the bare minimum. My ability to hide was defined by how low I could crouch behind a bush. I wasn't exactly a ninja.
Davy Crockett was worth 50,000 points.
How's that for perspective?

It was embarrassing! So badly I wanted to be like the legendary counselors! I wanted to be admired, I wanted to be cool, I wanted the other counselors and kids to think I was worth noticing.
How dumb does that sound?

Week after week, I would hide behind a different bush or rock, hoping the keen eyes of the young children would not pierce my floral facade and put me to shame. Again.

So I began to plan and formulate the perfect spot. I was no acrobat, so up trees was not my forte. I was not the tiniest of men, so squeezing beneath buildings was not ideal. I was no cheater, so out of bounds wasn't my style. I had to think deeper. Literally.

On the camp were stacked piles of  log rounds from the trees felled by the forestry service. Who would notice if one of them shifted over five feet?

During my time off, I took a shovel and pick and trudged off in to the woods to find my secret sanctum. I found one of the biggest piles of log rounds and began digging beside it. Six feet long, three feet wide, one foot deep. It was perfect. I reassembled the log stack over the hole with one large log as the secret door. I could roll the big log out of the way and slip underneath and be invisible.

And with counselor hunt happening later that day, it was just in time. I remember finishing my dinner as fast as i could and running out in to the woods with so much excitement and enthusiasm. As I came upon my subterranean sanctum, my heart was pounding with anticipation.
Would I be found?
Is this going to work?
How am I going to get out of this hole?

I asked my self these questions as I slipped in to the hole beneath the nine hundred pounds of logs. Being a stud was more important than being crushed to death by log rounds.

I pulled the massive log over my head and sealed my self inside.

The silence was oppressive. I shifted uncomfortably in the tight space. I could hear the wood groan and the dirt shift as the minutes ticked by. Then I heard them. The children were near. I heard their footsteps pounding the forest floor and their shrill cries through the five feet of wood. My blood ran cold with the idea of their tiny filthy hands reaching in to my pit after me. As the pounding drew nearer, I laid still and held my breath. I could now hear words and heavy breathing coming from the children merely feet away. They spoke of the counselors who had fallen thus far and what they planned to do with the next one. After a moment, the abandoned their inspection of the log stacks, and moved on.

I was still here. I had survived. After an hour, the game ending horn blast signaled all the remaining counselors still hidden that it was safe to reveal themselves. I reached up to push the log away, but it wouldn't budge. I had to press both my arms and shoulders against it to roll it away. It was easily one hundred pounds. 

My hiding spot had worked perfectly.

As weeks went on, I would uncover the hole and make it deeper and safer until the hole was three feet deep, six feet long, and three feet wide. I was invincible. My point worth was bested only by Davy Crockett's. I was worth 47,000 points, and Davy Crockett's sat at a stable 50,000 points. The counselors and campers spoke of me with admiration and jealousy. I felt legendary.

Week after week, I would retreat to my hole with books, snacks, my Gameboy, a sleeping bag, and assorted pleasantries to keep me busy while I bested the merciless campers. Every week, I would spend an hour reading and eating snacks, or maybe training up my Blaziken, or sometimes even taking a nap until the horn blast signaled my safety. I would muscle open the entrance and smile in victory at the exasperated faces of surprised campers. I was the man.

Before we get to the climax of this lengthy anecdote, I should preface it with this statement: if you don't like the weather in Prescott, just wait five minutes. The weather at camp could change in minutes going from hot and sunny to frigid pouring rain.

The day was beautiful. Sunny and warm. Birds called out and the wind danced between the trees making the warm sun pleasant. It was the last game of counselor hunt for the summer, and it was the perfect day to celebrate victory. As the hours ticked by, the anticipation increased. Dinner had arrived along with miles and miles of dark black clouds. Thunder signaled the coming of a July downpour.

And then the rain began to fall.

Sheets and sheets of water smothered the Arizona forest. Within an hour, the rain had died, and the clouds had left, but the damage was done. The forest floor was ebbing with tiny streams of flowing water and eight inch deep puddles of frigid mud. My mind explored the worst of possibilities. Did my hole fill in? Did the logs collapse in with the mud? I finished my meal and sprinted out to my hidden hideout. As I drew close, I was relieved. The log pile was intact. I rolled the massive entrance log out of the way and my breath froze in my lungs. Inside my three foot deep cavern was three feet of brown, filthy, frigid water.

My heart stopped.

What was I supposed to do?

I ran back to the dining hall where the legendary Davy Crockett sat along with some of my fellow camp staff. I leaned in close and whispered "Davy, my hiding spot is filled with water." He looked at me and nodded. "Ya that would be crazy if you hid in there."

What he meant as a warning, I took as a challenge. The other counselors nearby heard the warning and followed me closely in to the forest. As we approached the flooded forest fortress, the comments begin to fly.
"Holy cow. This is where you've been hiding all summer?"
"Ya, but it's full of water."
"Like three feet of water."
"Three feet of freezing water."
"I don't think it's a good idea."
"Dude, do it."

I had already decided. I had invested too much to back down now. I nodded to my fellow counselors and stepped in to the watery pit. The cold water stung as it touched my skin and I felt the muscles in my legs tense. I lowered myself down in to the water up to my waist, and the cold stole the breath from my lungs, and my hands had already begun to shake with cold. As I slipped chest-deep in to the water, my teeth began to chatter and my shoulders began to feel stiff. I looked up at my onlooking friends. They looked as if they were watching a friend being lowered in to the ground for a funeral. I finally settled all the way in to the water, only my head above the surface. I nodded to Matt as he rolled the log over the entrance of the hole, and I laid in wait for the game to begin.

The pit was not filled with books or video games like before. The only sound I could hear was the chattering of my own teeth and the pattering of rain as it began to drizzle again.

I had never felt so cold in my entire life. I could no longer feel my legs, and my hands had quit shaking and no longer felt cold. Was I just getting used to the cold? Was I warming up the water?

The game began and I heard the shrill squeal of children on the hunt. It was going to be another successful day of counselor hunt, and I would finally earn the admiration of all.

I heard the pounding of the rampant packs of campers, and I tried not to think about how cold I was feeli-- wait I don't feel cold anymore. I remember staring up at the logs above me and my eyes feeling heavy. So heavy.

Water up my nose woke me up.

I fell asleep.

Why do I feel so drowsy?

I can't keep my eyes open.

By the festering bunion of Moses,

I'm going to die in this hole.

I dug my own grave.

I imagined my own death in that hole, campers forever wondering what happened to Johnny Ringo, and the unfortunate child who would find the skeletal remains of the foolish young counselor who wanted so badly to be liked.

It would make an excellent camp legend.

I had to escape my self inflicted fate. I would just push the log out of the way and crawl out of the hole to safety. I tried to get in position to shove the massive log out of the way, but I couldn't lift my arms. My legs were white and cold and weak. I couldn't prop my shoulder against the log. I was trapped. The only thing I could do was call for help. So I tilted back my head to call out for help, but all i could muster was a frail and weak

...help...


I couldn't call out for help, I couldn't get a full breath of air.

I was not going to die in a hole. Especially not in one that I dug myself.


I gasped in a mouth full of air and yelled as loud as I could

Help!

Someone must have heard that. I heard the pounding of feet and the tittering of young voices as they followed their ears to my hidden hiding spot. They began dismantling the log pile, chucking my hard work to pieces. Finally one of the kids rolled away the large log and beheld my pale cold head and yelled

"I found Johnny Ringo!" and pushed my head underneath the water in an aggressive tagging movement.

I was saved. Kinda.

It turns out that I had given myself hypothermia and embarrassed myself in front of everyone. Everyone had a chance to see the shivering blue form of Johnny Ringo staggering to warmth.

It's crazy to think about the lengths we will go to earn the approval and admiration of others whose opinions don't affect our lives at all.

Through Christ, we have purpose and a new identity. We know that because of Christ, God is fully satisfied with us and views us as righteous. Be a God-pleaser, not a man-pleaser.

I hope you can kind of see the connection I'm making with this ridiculously long and stupid anecdote.
If not, I hope you enjoyed laughing at my misfortune. I wish I could say that is the only embarrassing camp story I have, but alas, I am afflicted with chronic thick-headedness


Nate T B